Mechanical Components

Lightweight Energy Absorbers for Blast Containers

Aluminum foam liners tested for possible replacement of solid lead liners. Kinetic-energy- absorbing liners made of aluminum foam have been developed to replace solid lead liners in blast containers on the aft skirt of the solid rocket booster of the space shuttle. The blast containers are used to safely trap the debris from small explosions that are initiated at liftoff to sever frangible nuts on hold-down studs that secure the spacecraft to a mobile launch platform until liftoff.

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Brush-Wheel Samplers for Planetary Exploration

A report proposes brush-wheel mechanisms for acquiring samples of soils from remote planets. In simplest terms, such a mechanism would contain brush wheels that would be counter-rotated at relatively high speed. The mechanism would be lowered to the ground from a spacecraft or other exploratory vehicle. Upon contact with the ground, the counterrotating brush wheels would kick soil up into a collection chamber. Thus, in form and function, the mechanism would partly resemble traditional street and carpet sweepers. The main advantage of using of brush wheels (in contradistinction to cutting wheels or other, more complex mechanisms) is that upon encountering soil harder than expected, the brushes could simply deflect and the motor(s) could continue to turn. That is, sufficiently flexible brushes would afford resistance to jamming and to overloading of the motors used to rotate the brushes, and so the motors could be made correspondingly lighter and less power hungry. Of course, one could select the brush stiffnesses and motor torques and speeds for greatest effectiveness in sampling soil of a specific anticipated degree of hardness.

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Probe Without Moving Parts Measures Flow Angle

Flow angle is computed from forces measured by use of strain gauges. The measurement of local flow angle is critical in many fluid-dynamic applications, including the aerodynamic flight testing of new aircraft and flight systems. Flight researchers at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center have recently developed, flight-tested, and patented the force-based flow-angle probe (FLAP), a novel, force-based instrument for the measurement of local flow direction. Containing no moving parts, the FLAP may provide greater simplicity, improved accuracy, and increased measurement access, relative to conventional moving-vane-type flow-angle probes.

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Noncircular Cross Sections Could Enhance Mixing in Sprays

Preliminary results suggest that elliptical cross sections may be best. A computational study has shown that by injecting drops in jets of gas having square, elliptical, triangular, or other noncircular injection cross sections, it should be possible to increase (relative to comparable situations having circular cross section) the entrainment and dispersion of liquid drops. This finding has practical significance for a variety of applications in which it is desirable to increase dispersion of drops. For example, in chemical-process sprays, increased dispersion leads to increases in chemical-reaction rates; in diesel engines, increasing the dispersion of drops of sprayed fuel reduces the production of soot; and in household and paint sprays, increasing the dispersion of drops makes it possible to cover larger surfaces.

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Mirrors Containing Biomimetic Shape-Control Actuators

Local bending would be controlled to obtain desired surface figures. Curved mirrors of a proposed type would comprise lightweight sheets or films containing integral, biologically inspired actuators for controlling their surface figures. These mirrors could be useful in such applications as collection of solar energy, focusing of radio beams, and (provided sufficient precision could be achieved) imaging. These mirrors were originally intended for use in outer space, but it should also be possible to develop terrestrial versions.

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Flight Tests of a Ministick Controller in an F/A-18 Airplane

Pilots' opinions were generally favorable. In March of 1999, five pilots performed flight tests to evaluate the handling qualities of an F/A-18 research airplane equipped with a small-displacement center stick (ministick) controller that had been developed for the JAS 39 Gripen airplane (a fighter/attack/ reconnaissance airplane used by the Swedish air force). For these tests, the ministick was installed in the aft cockpit (see figure) and production support flight control computers (PSFCCs) were used as interfaces between the controller hardware and the standard F/A-18 flight-control laws.

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Piezoelectrically Actuated Shutter for High Vacuum

This vacuum-compatible shutter generates an acceptably small magnetic field. A piezoelectrically actuated shutter is undergoing development for use in experiments on laser cooling of atoms. The shutter is required to be compatible with ultrahigh vacuum [pressure of 10-9 torr (≈1.3 X 10-7 Pa) or less] and to be capable of performing reliably in the vacuum for at least one year. In operation, the shutter would enable the collection and launch of successive samples of cold atoms and would enable the interrogation of the immediately preceding sample while preventing disturbance of the atoms of that sample by light from the collection region.

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